One of our earliest pieces on CFile was a post about Take Stock by Lawrence Epps. The installation was a part of the British Ceramics Biennial at Stoke-on-Trent (September 28, 2013 — November 10, 2013). Epps created a booth full of extruded brick-like figures of office workers. These were installed in towering stacks at the Ibstock Brick Pavilion.
One of the things that grabbed us about the work was how plainly stated it was. Epps didn’t have to work himself into a lather to describe the menial tedium of office work; it was self-evident in its depiction of cubicle jockeys who had bad posture or who were fighting the onset of a headache. Stacked into ad-hoc towers, these office workers became a testament to the countless hours of life people burn sitting in a cheap desk chair under the nauseating glow of fluorescent lights. The dull grind implied by the figures is apparent to anyone who ever had to work in one of these places. We hope its warning left a mark on some of the younger people who saw it (kids, run away and join the circus before it’s too late). The extrusion plays into the narrative: it’s all part of the same, uniform, monotonous process. It’s the suggestion that white collar work can be just as grimly industrial as stamping license plates for a living.
At this point Epps is telling us what we already know, but he complicated things with a video and emergent performance aspect to the piece. Visitors to the work were allowed to take one of the figures home with them. These people were filmed and, once all the figures were gone, Epps projected the video in reverse. These people were no longer freeing our tiny wage servants and giving them a good home, they were committing them to a cycle of purgatory that continued until Epps mercifully turned off the projector.
Watching this video, I find myself wondering how much of that cycle is a participatory act. Masses of people helped build the office over and over again. They took a figure because they could, but they didn’t know they would commit that figure to an eternity of toil. The figures weren’t really free for the taking. By accepting one the visitors were committing themselves the same cycle that keeps the office workers in thrall. Where does free will factor in here? Is someone else making me work or is it my choice? Do I condemn myself by cashing my paychecks? What would happen if I threw my laptop into the trash and ran screaming into the night? What forces would bring me back here? If I eventually decided to clean off my laptop and get back to work is that my choice? or am I being coerced by something more powerful than myself?
Anyway, have a good weekend, everybody! Enjoy this brief reprieve before the cycle begins again.
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor of cfile.daily.
What do you think of Lawrence Epps’ Take Stock as it relates to video and performance in contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.